In the Wake of the News
3:10 PM CDT, July 14, 2012
One day as Mark Aguirre was taking the L from his West Side home to DePaul for another recruiting visit that included a Cubs game, the feeling hit him. Aguirre still struggles to describe the sensation now, almost 35 years later.
"I just suddenly realized Chicago was for me,'' recalled Aguirre, one of the nation's top high school players at Westinghouse in 1978. "Can't explain it. I could have gone to any school I wanted but enjoyed the fact that rarely are you going to play in a big city where everybody knows you like that. The more I thought about it, Chicago was who I am, in my blood, comfortable. I loved it so I stayed.''
Nobody knows whether similar sentiments will strike Simeon's Jabari Parker in the coming months as America's best high school basketball player decides on a college. But Parker captured a city's imagination last week by including DePaul on a list of schools he narrowed to 10: Kentucky, Stanford, Michigan State, Kansas, Florida, Duke, BYU, Georgetown and North Carolina.
It was like seeing Two-Buck Chuck included on a list of fine wines.
Suddenly, DePaul creative-writing professors had their perfect summer-school assignment: Imagine how the most welcome Lincoln Parker since Aguirre could revive college basketball in Chicago. Immediately, DePaul coach Oliver Purnell had hope, not to mention a boost to recruiting credibility. Naturally, Aguirre had a smile on his face drawing parallels between his experience as a hometown star influenced by geography and Parker's.
"I don't know how Jabari's thinking but I can say he's never going to have the audience he has now in Chicago, no matter where he goes,'' said Aguirre, 52. "This is a rare opportunity. I know what he's thinking: 'Who do I want to play with to turn it around?' If Jabari committed to DePaul, they would start getting All-American recruits. All it takes is one. He would be the beginning of a new time.''
Times have changed in college basketball since DePaul landed Aguirre, its biggest local recruit ever, and followed the chubby freshman to the Final Four. Aguirre left for the NBA after his junior year — two more seasons than most people expect Parker to stay. The one-and-done trend favors NBA-apprentice programs led by coaches with more proven track records of quickly developing lottery picks. How does DePaul compete, for example, with Kentucky coach John Calipari promising Parker he can do for him what he did for Olympian Anthony Davis?
"Coach Cal knows what the NBA is about and that's big,'' Aguirre acknowledged. "On the other hand, if you're going to be a pro, you're going to be a pro.''
Other factors besides location provide DePaul inherent advantages. Close family friend Billy Garrett Jr. of Morgan Park, a former AAU teammate, already committed to DePaul — where his father, Billy Sr. is an assistant. Another grade-school buddy, Cory Dolins of Niles West, will walk-on for the Blue Demons next season.
Parker attended several DePaul games last season. His parents showed up for DePaul's Midnight Madness last year when their son was out of town with USA Basketball. The relationships the family has built within the basketball program suggest Parker still considering DePaul goes beyond lip service.
Buoying spirits even more along Belden Avenue, Parker told the Associated Press at an awards dinner last week in Los Angeles he would factor distance from home into his decision.
"I don't want my family waking up at 12 o'clock in the morning just to watch my games," Parker said. "But then again I have to go with which program fits me the best and what system and style of play is going to allow me to expand my game out in the pros."
It all sounds tantalizing: Parker expands his game, DePaul extends its reach. Would Parker's presence bring more blue-chippers to DePaul? More fans too? Would his commitment expedite the campus arena project?
Bobby Simmons believes in the positive ripple effect created by Chicago players choosing DePaul. Back in 1997, Simmons (Simeon), Lance Williams (Julian) and Quentin Richardson (Young) – the Parker of the 1990s – conspired to reinvest in Lincoln Park. Rejuvenation followed.
"We wanted to do something different and finally said to each other, 'Let's put our eggs in one basket and make it happen,'' Simmons said. "As young men growing into adults, having the backing you get in your hometown made our transition period that much easier.''
As legitimate as mutual interest seems I still wonder if DePaul has a better chance of winning the Big East next year than signing Parker. Similar skepticism comes from ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep, who called DePaul a "very dark horse candidate.''
"We need to keep things in perspective: 10 schools is an abnormal amount for a final list,'' Telep said. "They have the local angle going for them but you have to be reasonable because so much heavy national traffic is in front of them.''
Taking the city streets to DePaul sure would be the road less traveled for Parker — and for the Blue Demons it could make all the difference.
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